by Gary Corwin
The Internet has made information instantly available. Twenty years ago even the world’s most sophisticated intelligence agencies would have drooled over comparable access to it.
The Internet has made information instantly available. Twenty years ago even the world’s most sophisticated intelligence agencies would have drooled over comparable access to it. Amazing, to say the least. But wisdom, that sure-footed connection to “real reality” seems harder to find. Whether one is talking about the great affairs of society in general, like the events of September 11, 2001 or the directions that the missions enterprise ought to take in the wake of new challenges, wisdom is much needed but not always readily apparent.
Now one would think that wisdom and information are two intimately related commodities. The more information you have, the wiser you should be. In reality, however, the prevalence of the two seems to be moving in opposite directions. While the information available to average people is multiplying like mosquitoes after a summer rain, wisdom seems to be in increasingly short supply. One reason is that while information is instant, wisdom requires reflection, and reflection is something we have little time or patience for.
A more important reason, however, is that while information is there for everyone to see, wisdom is like a pair of God-given spectacles that allow the wearer to see things the way God sees them and not simply as so many units of data input. God is the giver of wisdom (James 1:5) and wisdom itself is measured by how well we know God. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Prov. 9:10). Unfortunately few, it would seem, know God well.
The history of God’s people is replete with contrasts between what information alone tells us, and what it tells us when it is processed through the eyes of wisdom. Information alone tells the ten spies that the enemies in the good land are too difficult to conquer. Wisdom tells Joshua and Caleb that even one plus God ensures the victory, a message repeated in the lives of Gideon, Esther and David, just to name a few. It was most profoundly stated on the cross of Christ, an event that as information can only seem like loss and defeat, but which wisdom recognizes as the path to victory. Paul’s triumphant declaration in the midst of a life racked with pain and woe that “we are more than conquerors through him who loved us…” (Rom. 8:37) serves well as the biblical summary on the subject.
What is seen so clearly in the lives of God’s people as recorded in Scripture is abundant in missions as well: Information describes closed countries; wisdom understands creative access.
Information catalogs resistant peoples. Wisdom, more humble about what motivates others, speaks of the least reached.
Information looks at “sending churches” and sees a declining interest in missions following fast on the heels of a declining interest in theology. Wisdom looks outside the West, reflects on history and perceives a changing of the guard.
Information chronicles younger generations’ lack of commitment with regard to missions. Wisdom notices the difference between institutional wariness and relational openness.
Information describes the daunting challenge of resurgent and aggressive world religions. Wisdom anticipates an opening for the gospel in the predictable backlash that so often accompanies the rule of authoritarian religious zealots.
Information warns of the danger of martyrdom and loss. Wisdom remembers the savior’s admonition not to fear those who can kill the body, but to fear him who has power over both this life and the next.
Information points to the sacrifices of educational advantage when raising one’s children outside their native culture. Wisdom recognizes the vision-expanding purpose of education and rejoices in the wider exposure.
Information inundates us with the need to pad our retirement accounts and prepare for the future. Wisdom recognizes the prudence of planning, but finds its security in the promises of God rather than the best-laid plans of mice and men.
Information reveals a frightening shortage of field leadership in missions. Wisdom ponders whether new models of partnership are needed.
Information records declining finances and numbers of recruits and creates fear concerning the survivability of agency ethos. Wisdom contemplates merger and the possibility of ethos broadening and enhancement.
Wisdom is more than an alternative way to look at discouraging facts and figures based on who God is. It’s an alternative way to approach all of life. Seeing our life and service from God’s point of view is its essence and goal. None of the great names associated with the modern missionary movement—people like Carey, Judson, Carmichael, Taylor, Bingham, Moon or Townsend—lacked enough discouraging information to make staying or going home anything but a reasonable decision. In addition, however, each possessed enough of the wisdom of God to trust his power and provision to sustain them in the pursuit of his revealed plan and purposes. They recognized the wisdom, as Carey put it, of expecting great things from God, and attempting great things for him.
Should we do less?
Gary Corwin is associate editor of the Evangelical Missions Quarterly and a special representative with SIM in Charlotte, N.C.
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